Noah is an inventive, beautiful, harrowing, and thought-provoking epic that proves that a big studio budget need not doom a creative film.
BY RYAN MILOWICKI
Fun fact of the day: For someone as linked with starring roles as Russell Crowe, this is only the second time that he has had a truly titular role (Gladiator and The Insider don’t really count here). Any guesses as to what the first one was? Well, it was as none other than Robin Hood in Ridley Scott’s film of the same name. Since this is a rare occurrence for Crowe, it’s a good thing that he saved some of his best acting chops for Noah, delivering his most nuanced performance in over a decade.
Led by Crowe’s skillful portrayal of the Old Testament hero, and by Darren Aronofsky’s incredibly confident filmmaking, Noah is an inventive, beautiful, harrowing, and thought-provoking epic that proves once and for all that a big studio budget need not doom a film to mindless plot and action.
When faced with telling a story which is canon to the vast majority of the world, the question of how many liberties to take is always a pressing one. Aronofsky walked this tightrope so well that he has created a rarity in the biblical epic genre: a story which carries just as much appeal for devout religious audiences as it does for the secular crowd. Rather than focus entirely on a biblical history lesson and being pedagogic, the film focuses much more on two struggles which lend themselves well to epic cinema. Over the course of the film, the last non-wicked man on Earth (Crowe) builds the ark to save God’s purest creation (the animals) and begin the world anew. He must turn away the evil men bent on overtaking the ark before the flood, and then must ponder if his family has any role whatsoever in this new world God is creating. The pacing flows very well as the story progresses from one centered around expansive external conflict to a brooding look at humanity’s troubled (and often destructive) relationship with the Earth.
Despite this seemingly overt message of environmentalism, Aronofsky never comes across as preachy. What he decides to do instead is flood you (pun intended) with the most beautiful images put on screen since Life Of Pi and let you see what paradise looks like, unmarred by human hands. Through extremely expressive cinematography, some expert use of time-lapse, and the best CGI of 2014 thus far, the landscape is fantastical, yes, but awe-inspiring in its color and scope. I”ve gone on the record and said that IMAX 2D is the best way to see a movie, and Noah’s incredible visual palette is a big testament to this.
One of the reasons that the story works so well is the across-the-board phenomenal acting performances. As I stated before, Crowe is at his best here portraying the reluctant hero. He is incredibly easy to root for in the early going, but as his character deepens, so does his morality. Without ever delving into over-the-top melodrama, we nonetheless see his character fighting against his heart as he tries to decipher what God’s plan is for him and his family. As the film progresses, his family begins to turn against him, making him villainous and sympathizable at the same time.
Leading the charge in the supporting cast is Jennifer Connelly, who reprises her A Beautiful Mind role as Crowe’s wife struggling to keep him in control of his emotions. At first, her dialogue is limited, but her role gains emotional gravitas as the plot thickens, culminating in an emotional confrontation with Crowe that is one of the scenes of the year thus far. Logan Lerman and Emma Watson are excellent as Noah’s son and adoptive daughter respectively, each of whom face a very intense conflict with the patriarch. Bringing some age to the cast are Ray Winstone as the leader of the men trying to storm the ark and Anthony Hopkins as the wizened Methuselah, who provides advice, comfort, and even some much-needed wit to the proceedings.
Aronofsky had a much-publicized fight with Paramount over which cut of the film would be released, and thankfully he won. This film is clearly his own, and he injects so much confidence into it that Terence Malick himself would be jealous. If there were any hint of hesitance or fear on his part, the whole thing would likely fall apart. Can you imagine a “careful” director making a Bible story with gigantic rock giants, apocalyptic dreams, and time-lapse narration sequences? I didn’t think so. In lesser hands, this enterprise would be a nearly impossible one to pull off, but Aronofsky was not afraid to tackle the brutality of the Old Testament as literally as possible, and the dividends paid off.
This year has been filled with many feeble attempts to create believable, yet fantastic tales of the ancient past, most with little success. However, by devoting as much time to meticulous storytelling and inventive visual craftsmanship, Aronofsky has created a true epic capable of catering to a wide variety of audiences. Granted, this is a difficult film by choice, and some of the more complex themes might be difficult to grasp right from the start. But, getting a film with this much cerebral content out of a “blockbuster” was an unexpected surprise for me. It might not live up to the insane uniqueness and sentiment of The LEGO Movie, but this is without a doubt the finest live-action film of the year so far.
RYAN’s RATING: 3.5 Stars out of 4